Dealing With Difficult Characters: Improving Work Relationships Through Empathy
This technical note gives an overview of the most commonly encountered problematic personality traits, also termed dark traits, within the academic literature. These dark traits constitute the difficult characters of people we encounter at the workplace every day, whether they are bosses, peers, subordinates or clients. Having a difficult character does not necessarily translate into a bad character, it is more related to certain personality traits, which, when overused and taken to an extreme level, can create problems for the person who has them, as well as those around him or her. This note provides a summary based on academic literature on what the characteristics of such difficult characters are. It describes the problematic traits that make up such characters and refers to their clinical version. It also reviews how these dark traits are manifested in the workplace, and in what ways they affect people's thinking, as well as the advantages and disadvantages of each characteristic. In this way, we provide enough information, in a systematized manner, to enable readers to spot these dark side characteristics within themselves and those around them. Most importantly, this note also provides guidelines for managing these traits, and thus a way to deal more effectively with difficult people. We offer both generalized recommendations of how to approach such difficult characters, as well as specific tips for how to handle each dark trait. Furthermore, these guidelines are divided into two categories: a) how to deal with a difficult character over whom you have little influence and b) how to deal with a difficult character over whom you have authority. Thus, we hope to provide clarity and practical advice on how we can better handle the complex relationships with difficult characters that all of us encounter in our workplace.